Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. – Acts 22:17-38
Early in my ministry I found myself in the crosshairs of no small amount of accusation. There were those who considered me less than what I ought to be as their pastor and had no trouble letting me and others know about it. For a while it became so intense that I decided to provide a written defense of some of the actions I had taken. After I wrote it, however, I did not share it immediately with anyone in the church. Instead, I shared it with a respected colleague. He took it, read it, and when he handed it back to me he said, “I have written a thing or two like that in my time. But I wouldn’t publish it. Keep it handy and be ready to read from it if the time comes. Otherwise someone might take it and find things to use against you.”
That turned out to be good advice. I never even had to read it out loud. But I had it at the ready in case I needed to refer to it.
Paul’s experience in bidding farewell proves to be an opportunity to defend his ministry in a much better context. He is not merely speaking about the things he did or did not do, but by doing so, he is instructing the Ephesian Elders (and offering us today good advice and a truly-Christian approach to mission work.
Some of the things he offers:
- He will move forward in the mission of God even though he did not know what lay before him. Courage.
- He has and will continue to proclaim the full truth of God that leads people to repentance and faith.
- He urges the Ephesian elders to attend to themselves and to the people under their care so that they may persevere in the faith.
- He reminds them of his demonstrated love for them as shown by his three years of ministry among them.
- He refers to Jesus’ teaching that it is more blessed to give than receive (one of a very few sayings of Jesus that is found outside the Gospels).
- He leaves them after a prayer, departing by ship.
The challenging thing for any true follower of Jesus is to hold oneself up as an example without appearing to be self-righteous. On the other hand we are to be an example to one another of true love and faithfulness to God. Paul seems clearly to have landed on a matter-of-fact summary of his ministry and missionary activity. He is not bragging. He is offering an example that is worthy of our embrace – both in what he showed by his life and the fact that he showed it at all.
I hope somehow to offer that kind of example to others, in a humble sort of way. In all this – as with Paul – it is my desire to lift up Christ and encourage others to follow him.